– By Lindsey Millen Industrial unrest in China continues to proliferate. A riot at a Foxconn factory that disrupted production at Apple’s main China supplier for 24 hours highlights regimented dormitory life and thuggish security as major sources of la …
– By Lindsey Millen
Industrial unrest in China continues to proliferate. A riot at a Foxconn factory that disrupted production at Apple’s main China supplier for 24 hours highlights regimented dormitory life and thuggish security as major sources of labour tension in China.
While unrest often flares in China as low-paid workers agitate for better pay and conditions, the conflict at Foxconn’s Taiyuan facility in northern China was notable for its scale and severity.
Details of the riot are uncertain while investigations are underway, but employees interviewed by Reuters said tension between workers and security guards boiled over on Sunday evening after a worker was severely beaten.
That led to thousands joining in and about 40 people were injured, according to Foxconn and Chinese media.
This is a major blow to Apple’s top supplier as it ramps up production to meet orders for the iPhone 5 and seeks to rehabilitate its image after a labour audit this year found flaws: New iPhone, Old Abuses.
Foxconn Chairman Terry Gou has moved in recent years to improve conditions at his factories after a spate of suicides and pressure from Apple; however workers say many changes haven’t reached smaller locations such as Taiyuan.
The facility has inferior food, poor sanitation and overcrowded dorms, while security guards are young, poorly trained and too aggressive, with workers comparing them to gangsters.
Many labour groups say ultimate responsibility for such strains rests with Apple, which they say puts profit above workers’ welfare, despite pledges to cut overtime hours and improve workers’ livelihoods.
New York-based China Labor Watch has said “Apple’s sales and marketing strategy involves launching a product suddenly, without maintaining much inventory … so the subsequent product shortages help build demand, but also place extreme pressures on workers.”
Li Qiang, the labour activist, said workers at Foxconn’s giant plant in Zhengzhou, in Henan province, were working largely on the iPhone 5, and were also facing great pressure, withovertime of about 70 hours a week common, despite pledges by Apple and Foxconn to cap work at 60 hours a week.
Foxconn are in damage control, claiming the unrest was triggered by a personal dispute that spun out of control, rather than harsh conditions in the factory.
This however seems to be another smokescreen to hide the real issues faced by workers at Foxconn. When a company has to force its staff to sign anti-suicide pledges while working there, you know something is far far wrong.
Foxconn has been given a greatly improved bill of health by the Fair Labour Association; however the association itself is industry-funded, with a large amount of this funding coming from Apple.
This is a similar situation to that in Pakistan, where the factories involved in the deaths of over 300 workers were given a clean bill of health from Social Accountability International.
This goes to show that we cannot trust industry-funded bodies to monitor industry – we need independent assessment, and the best way to provide this is through trade union health and safety officials on every site.
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